Editors Note: What does it take to make an effective organization? The list would probably include, as a minimum:
- Planning for the future
- Being able to adapt plans to the contingencies that actually unfold
- Maintaining working relationships with all stakeholders and contributors
- Communicating effectively across the organization and to the outside community
In dealing with an unexpected snowfall on October 15-16, 2009, Penn State demonstrated that it has all of these components in its organizational DNA.
Dealing with Mother Nature: The Homecoming Game Will Go On
It may not be possible to beat Mother Nature. But in preparation for the October 17, 2009 Homecoming football game against Minnesota, Penn State showed that, as a result of planning, collaboration, and teamwork, Mother Nature may have met her match.
Mother Nature threw Penn State a curve regarding snow in Happy Valley during football season in the mid-1990s. Several years later, faced again with the possibility of early winter snow in fall 2000, the Office of Physical Plant and Intercollegiate Athletics Stadium Operations developed a Stadium Snow Emergency Plan for dealing with future snow accumulation during the football season. The plan is updated annually, and it paid off on October 16, 2009.
On Wednesday, October 14, during the regular Intercollegiate Athletics and Office of Physical Plant planning meeting for a home football game, it looked as though all activities would be as normally planned. There was a forecast of snow on the ridges and possible snow on the ground in the valleys, but no accumulation and nothing unusual for the October 17 Minnesota game.
On Thursday, October 15, Lloyd Rhoades, Manager, Central Services in the Office of Physical Plant (OPP) and the University Snow Marshal, checked with Bill Syrett of Penn State’s Meteorology Department. The 7 a.m. forecast was mostly rain, but with the possibility of one inch of snow Thursday night and more snow Friday overnight to Saturday. By 11 a.m. the forecast called for 2 to 5 inches of snow Thursday, with a total of 6 to 8 inches by Saturday morning. Plans were made for Landscaping and Janitorial staff from the Office of Physical Plant to clear walks and entrances, and for some salting of roads. Lloyd Rhoades contacted Bob Hudzik, Director, Outdoor Facilities in Intercollegiate Athletics (ICA). With the increased snow forecast, there was a need to initiate the Stadium Emergency Snow Plan. The game would go on. A meeting was scheduled for 8 a.m. Friday morning, October 16 to implement the plan.
Around 3 p.m. Thursday, OPP issued a Snow Loading Alert. With leaves still on the trees, the limbs were holding more snow than they normally would in the winter. The weight was more than many of the limbs could bear. Some Landscaping staff worked Thursday night and Friday morning dealing with falling branches.
The first meeting of the Stadium Emergency Snow Team was held at the Bryce Jordan Center, with representatives from Intercollegiate Athletics, Office of Physical Plant, University Police, Emergency Management, Parking, and Transportation. There were 5 inches of heavy wet snow on the ground, and 4.5 inches on the stadium field tarp. There were fallen trees, broken branches, closed roads, and an estimated 12,000 Centre County residents without power. A disaster emergency had been declared for the Centre Region. A total of up to 8 inches of snow was forecast for Friday. Three priorities were established for the game the following day:
- clear the field
- clear walking aisles and stairs in the stadium
- clear for traffic, the stadium perimeter, walkways, and parking
The first question was whether the stadium could support 13 inches of wet snow. OPP contacted the structural engineers and the answer was yes.
The plan was to clear the stadium immediately, and reclear it later if that was needed. The question: where to find people to clear the stadium, since OPP staff was focusing on clearing the campus? The estimate was that 120 people would be needed. The first option was prisoners from Rockview State Prison. The Office of Emergency Management agreed to contact the prison. ICA agreed to supply food for any prisoners involved in the clearing.
Preparing for the fans
An early decision was made to have no parking on grass for safety reasons. The ground was already saturated with 1 inch of rain and 4 inches of snow. Vehicles would have no traction and would skid. All parking would be on paved or stone areas, so they would need to be cleared. Midnight Clear, Penn State’s order that no vehicles, privately or University owned, may park on surface lots overnight, was declared for Friday night at University Park. This would facilitate a complete plowing of all surface lots, and provide more flexibility for football parking. To maximize available parking, there would be no tailgating or tent use.
But with no parking on grass, there was a question of how to honor parking permits. The alternate parking plan was implemented. Parking for those with limited mobility would be in the East Parking Deck, with an ADA shuttle from Fleet Operations providing transportation to and from the stadium. Parking for others would be in off-campus parking lots, with shuttles bringing fans to the stadium. The group brainstormed new parking opportunities in addition to those listed in the standing plan.
Transportation Services was tasked with confirming the availability of remote parking locations and obtaining the busses to move the thousands of fans not able to park on the grass parking lots near the stadium. The Parking Office staff contacted local schools, shopping centers, manufacturing plants and other groups that maintain large hard surface parking lots, seeking permission to direct fans to those locations. Fleet Operations contacted three local bus companies to obtain as many busses as possible to transport people. Fifty-nine buses were secured; with the University fleet busses added, the total of shuttle busses ready to be used was over 70. Drivers were also located; they came from as far as 60 miles away.
Implementing the plan
The Stadium Emergency Snow Team met again at 10 a.m., this time in the University Emergency Operations Center (EOC). AccuWeather was forecasting more snow. Because of Pennsylvania state budget delays, no prisoners were available for work release. The Office of Emergency Management would contact ROTC units and athletics and sports groups to clear the stadium. Transportation Services reported that commercial parking lot owners were agreeing to the use of their lots.
University Relations Office of Public Information would write a media release for national news, not just sports, so those coming to the game would be aware of the plan and know what to expect: remote parking and shuttle service to the stadium.
The OPP Snow Team met at 12 noon. About 65 from the Landscape staff would go to the stadium at 3:30 p.m. for four hours of overtime when they were done on campus. Landscape staff would also come in at 5 a.m. on Saturday morning for any final cleanup. At 10 p.m. an equipment team would be in to plow existing snow and address any additional snow as needed.
At 12:30 p.m. there was a follow-up meeting of the Stadium Emergency Snow Team in the EOC, with a representative from Risk Management joining the group. No ROTC students or athletes were available – they were committed to Homecoming Parade preparations. The forecast was for less than 8 inches of additional snow and no temperature below freezing. The plan was to keep 40 Janitorial staff and about 80 Equipment staff for four hours of overtime from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. to shovel and clear. Saturday at 5 a.m. Janitorial would be back to clear inside the stadium while Landscape would clear outside the stadium.
With local police departments and University Police, Fleet Operations developed bus routes to expedite the shuttle services and be consistent with traffic patterns close in to the stadium. A meeting on Friday at 1:30 p.m. confirmed the seven shuttle bus routes, with four drop off/pick up points at the stadium. Members of Fleet Operations met with the drivers at each of the bus company offices to brief the drivers on their individual routes to and from the stadium. University Police were reassigned from normal game day posts to the parking areas so that there would be security in the borrowed commercial lots.
Clearing the field and stadium
Penn State had 13 pieces of rental equipment for seasonal snow clearing scheduled for arrival in December. OPP was able to get eight delivered on October 16. They were also able to hire eight pieces with operators from two local contractors, and borrowed some equipment from Turf Grass Research and Stone Valley. But how to clear the field without damaging it for the game on Saturday? The ground was soft; there had been no frost. There was a need to use lightweight equipment. OPP had a small tracked vehicle with a snow plow on the front. ICA staff took a piece of PVC pipe the length of the plow, slit it lengthwise so that it could be opened into a U, and slid it on the bottom of the plow blade to protect the tarp on the field. In five hours, the tarp on the field was cleared, plowing from the middle and pushing the snow out to the side lines. ICA staff on the sidelines shoveled the snow into the beds of small utility vehicles. The vehicles then drove the snow out of the stadium. Once the field was cleared, the continuing snowfall melted as it hit the tarp.
Kerosene heaters were rented and placed under the east and west sections of the stadium to create some warmth and melt some snow from the metal structure, with a bit of success. Fire hoses with 50 degree water were used to flush some sections of the stands, but success was limited. Like the equipment scheduled for December arrival, Penn State did not yet have the noncorrosive melt compound used during the winter. OPP staff called the manufacturer, who located some in Baltimore and had two skids delivered by 1:15 p.m. Friday. The original plan was to push the snow on the stadium ramps to the side. Once they started, OPP staff saw that this created a safety hazard: the snow was up to the height of the railings, making it possible for fans to walk over the railings and fall off the ramps. For safety, the snow had to be removed from the ramps.
There was more to do than just moving snow. Equipment such as portable lights was relocated from the expected grass parking areas to locations closer to the stadium where shuttle busses would be staged.
Last steps before the game
Late Friday night and early Saturday welders repaired a few spots in the stadium where it was hit by a snow plow. OPP crews picked up all snow shovels and equipment. Propane heaters were dismantled and removed from the stadium by noon. A check was made with the Environmental Health and Safety Office to make sure no hazardous materials were left out.
Measures of success
There were several indications of the success of the plan execution.
- The ABC TV crew was originally told on Friday that they would not be able to use their sideline cameras. But the sidelines were cleared and, as usual, there were sideline shots of the game.
- There was a news comment that the only sections that were obviously not full at the game were the sections set aside for students –ironically, those fans that could walk to the game. Over 68,000 attended the game, based on the number of tickets scanned.
- There were no reports of injuries due to slipping and falling on snow.
- Shuttle busses ran from 10:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Saturday, and carried over 30,000 fans between the remote parking lots and the stadium.
After the game
The work was not done once the game started.
On Sunday, October 18, the day after the game, OPP adjusted work schedules and had staff clean up the commercial lots that had been used for parking.
Through communication in the local paper and letters to individual lot owners, the University expressed their appreciation for the community’s support.
There were lessons learned and the plan will be updated. The current plan is designed for a catastrophic storm. The intent is to revise it into an all-hazards plan to deal with any weather conditions. This will address not only different possible winter weather situations, but also when heavy rain means the grass lots cannot be used for event parking during the rest of the year.
The planning, collaboration, and teamwork that made it possible for the game to go on, and the learning that resulted, will continue. Penn State will be ready for whatever Mother Nature throws next.
Thanks to all Penn State staff whose planning, collaboration, and teamwork made it possible for the game to go on.
Thanks also to: Lloyd Rhoades, Manger of Central Services, Marv Bevan, Project Manager, and Terry Hansel, Project Coordinator, all from the Office of Physical Plant; Mark Bodenschatz, Associate Athletic Director, Facilities and Operations, Bob Hudzik, Director, Outdoor Facilities, and Bud Meredith, Director, Ticket Operations, all from Intercollegiate Athletics; Tyrone Parham, Deputy Director, and Clifford Lutz, Emergency Manager, University Police; Doug Holmes, Acting Director, Transportation Services, and Jean Harris, Office Manager, University Parking Office, for their assistance in providing information for this feature article.